Moving, South America, Traveling, Uncategorized

How It Happens

This is how it happens, then. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, things fall into place.

La Plaza de Villa de Leyva

La Plaza de Villa de Leyva

You leave the city for a smaller town. You ride the bus, watch the countryside change. You walk around, find a park, watch a family playing basketball in the twilight. Multiple generations – the girls mostly, their father, mother, and grandmother. You head to the plaza, buy a latte, and sit on the steps of the  church while evening services sing out the door. You watch a procession carry the virgin around the plaza, down a street. She doesn’t come back until the next day.

While sightseeing, you get caught in the downpour and don’t mind. You run into the owner of the comedor where you failed to consume the menu del dia because you couldn’t make the food go down the tunnel of knotted nerves that used to connect to your stomach.  She comments that you are wet, you’ve been caught in the rain. She invites you back for another try. You have just the soup, this time, so you don’t waste food.  And it’s perfect. Fresh, warm, filling. Your appetite has returned. When you pay, she lets you know the next day’s menu, so you can plan ahead.

Outside, the workmen leveling the cobblestone street – by hand, digging up the stones and rearranging them in a less treacherous fashion – are back to work. As you walk by, one raises his pick jokingly, as if to hit his coworker on the head. You notice and you laugh out loud, which makes all of them laugh with you.

This dude did NOT like when I got too close to one of his ladies

This dude did NOT like when I got too close to one of his ladies

You don’t care that you walk all the way to the ostrich farm and find it closed. Instead, you take a picture of a cow, and an oriole, and talk to a guy who’s twenty feet up a telephone pole hanging wire. You don’t mind when you find a little scorpion in the bathroom; you just put on your flip flops and do some thinking. You take a nap and listen to the second rainstorm of the day. After, a woman scrubs water down a large street with a very small broom.

in case there was ANY question...

In case there was ANY question…

You see some fossils. The town is small enough that you run into everyone again – the lunch lady, the coffee lady, the guy you asked for directions – and they all want to know how the fossils were. They want to know If you liked the ancient stone structure like Stonehenge (only not, only smaller, only tiny and completely phallic – so how do you tell them you thought it was great without sounding like a perv?) and if you’re coming by later, for coffee, for lunch.

When you return to the Bogota, the city is more familiar. You get off at the right bus stop. You see landmarks where you change to the express. You sit through rush hour and laugh with the woman next to you when everyone, already packed like sardines, gets pushed a little more in places that aren’t pushable. What else is there to do?

This is how it happens, then. How the unfamiliar becomes familiar. How the nerves recede, for now. How you let the world in.

To see more pictures of my travels in Colombia, click here

South America, Tourist, Traveling

The Terror….the Terror

No one tells you about the terror. Everybody talks about how exciting it is, all the places you’ll see and the people you’ll meet. They talk about how your life is will change. They don’t talk about being nauseous, shaking, and feeling like you may pee your pants, simultaneously. No one warns you that you’ll get so anxious you’ll barely be able to say goodbye to your family without crying, even over the phone. Finally, I understand what people mean when they’ve been telling me for months, “you’re so brave!”  Apparently they all knew something I didn’t: this is terrifying.

Who in her right mind gives up a perfectly good job and an apartment and drives around the country for three months, then ditches dog and car and leaves the country for six? Who gives up the comfort of clean air and cotton sheets for diesel fumes and polyester? Or a nice deep tub and clean bathroom counter for a communal bathroom the size of a pea? Instead of telling me I was brave, I’m beginning to think people should have told me I was crazy. What is wrong with you people for not stopping me?!

Like all dreams, this one is currently suffering from a dose of hard reality.  The business class ticket was a good sendoff (and, dare I say, by the time I board that plane to Sydney, will be a welcome relief), and the free champagne went a long way to calm my frazzled nerves. Even Miami, which I recall being the armpit of airports, looked all spiffed up when I went out to the ticket counter to pay for a change to the Chilean leg of my plane ticket and came back through security. And Colombian customs? Uneventful, thank goodness. And then I woke up.

Now, while I walk around Bogota, the fear whispers at me like a Marlon Brando Apocalypse Now nightmare, only instead of “the horror,” it’s “the terror, the terror.”  In the newness of this one city, I am gleaning what the next six months of my life will be like: unfamiliar. Nothing to be taken for granted.  No landmarks by which to measure position or progress.

In a ten day vacation, I revel in this. Who cares about familiar food or your own bed for short periods of time? Or for that matter, being able to communicate fluidly? Isn’t half the fun of a foreign place the interaction you have while trying to engage in the completely, totally unfamiliar? Isn’t that why you leave the country?

Yesterday, negotiating something in my barely passable Spanish, I started panicking about how I will make it around Southeast Asia, where I can neither read nor speak the language. You got it: on day two of my 180 days, I started worrying about something that won’t happen until  the end of the second month. That’s day 60, for you math whizzes. And honestly, it was a pretty great day two (which I will write about later).

And so, this is how the transition goes. It is the challenge of a journey this length: how do I open my heart to this adventure without letting in too much of the fear? How do I balance the new and exhilarating with the exhaustion that comes with it? How do I learn to see today for today, and not for what it means for the next six months? My goal for Colombia is to bring myself to a place I can find comfort in being lost. I’ll let you know how it goes.